Anti-gambling social movements; problem gambling; gambling history; ethnographic content analysis


Gaming and Casino Operations Management | Gaming Law

Document Type

Original Research Article


The history of anti-gambling impulses is perhaps as old as the gambling impulse itself, but academic research has thus far neglected the topic of anti-gambling social movements. Using social movement literature as a theoretical guide and ethnographic content analysis as a methodological tool, this paper examines anti-gambling documents produced in the United States over nearly two hundred years. During this period, three distinct periods emerge: first, an early ( 1816-1915) period framed the gambling act on strict religious grounds as an individual sin. This religious framing was then challenged by the rise of more rational and scientifically-based medical discourses on problem gambling (1915-1980). From 1980 through the present, gambling opponents have modified (and in some cases reversed) their arguments- and now incorporate both moral and scientific rhetoric into their claims. Drawing from sociological research and theory, we identify a process of "frame inversion" in which problem gamblers were once cast as villains to be scorned, but now are characterized as sympathetic victims of the gaming industry. In this first academic study of anti-gambling social movement rhetoric, we develop an illustrative example of how social movements' rhetorical tactics can change over time, and of the kinds of opponents the global gaming industry has faced - and might still face in the future.